On October 22, the Uruguayan National Police, with the support of the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU, in Spanish), dismantled a criminal group engaging in narcotrafficking that planned to smuggle cocaine from Bolivia by air, Uruguay’s Ministry of the Interior said in a statement. Nine people, seven Uruguayans, a Bolivian, and a Brazilian national, were captured under Operation Gallego. Authorities also seized nearly half a ton of cocaine.
“We have the enormous satisfaction to report that we dealt a new and important blow to narcotrafficking,” Uruguayan Minister of the Interior Jorge Larrañaga said during a press conference.
For his part, Uruguayan National Police Chief Diego Fernández considered the operation a milestone. “We understand that this volume of 459 kilograms and 969 grams of cocaine is very important; it is a signal for the country and for those abroad that we are seriously fighting against narcotrafficking,” he said.
The operation began in July, when intelligence from the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for the Control of Illicit Drug Trafficking identified a Uruguayan national who was in charge of the logistics to receive a cocaine shipment, and was in contact with foreigners for that purpose, the Uruguayan newspaper La Diaria reported. Once law enforcement agencies confirmed the narco-plane’s landing site, some 60 police officers carried out a surveillance operation, taking turns day and night to observe how the criminals were preparing a field in the Salto area, in northwestern Uruguay, so that the aircraft could land.
When the plane landed, police units detained the people who were unloading the cocaine and seized the drugs, but they were unable to intercept the aircraft before it took off, the Uruguayan newspaper El Observador reported. A FAU helicopter followed the aircraft until it crossed the border into Brazil, and authorities notified the Brazilian forces so they could track the aircraft in their country, the Uruguayan newspaper El País reported. Agents captured other criminals in 12 raids carried out in the departments of Montevideo, Flores, and Tacuarembó, El Observador reported.
In an interview with the Uruguayan newspaper La República, Uruguayan Air Force General Luis De León, FAU commander, said that each semester the FAU detects an average of 15,000 irregular flights, about 55 of which are “really irregular, they are [manned by] people that did not intend to be detected.”
“Today the enemy that we have, narcotrafficking, has many resources,” Gen. De León said. “[…] We are auxiliaries of the judiciary. So we have an enormous activity.”